Garbage disposal unit
A garbage disposal unit, waste disposal unit, or garburator is a device, usually electrically powered, installed under a kitchen sink between the sink's drain and the trap which shreds food waste into pieces small enough—generally less than 2 mm (0.079 in)—to pass through plumbing.
Garbage disposal units are widely used in North American households, but far less commonly used elsewhere.
The garbage disposal was invented in 1927 by John W. Hammes, an architect working in Racine, Wisconsin. He received U.S. Patent 2,012,680 for a garbage disposal device in 1935. After eleven years of development, his InSinkErator company put his disposer on the market in 1940.
In many cities in the United States in the 1930s and the 1940s, the municipal sewage system had regulations prohibiting placing food waste (garbage) into the system. InSinkErator spent considerable effort, and was highly successful in convincing many localities to rescind these prohibitions.
Many localities in North America mandated the use of disposers. For many years, garbage disposals were illegal in New York City because of a perceived threat of damage to the city's sewer system. After a 21-month study with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, the ban was rescinded in 1997 by local law 1997/071, which amended section 24-518.1, NYC Administrative Code.
In 2008, the city of Raleigh, North Carolina attempted a ban on the replacement and installation of garbage disposals, which also extended to outlying towns sharing the city's municipal sewage system, but rescinded the ban one month later.
In Sweden, some municipalities encourage the installation of disposers so as to increase the production of biogas. Some local authorities in Britain subsidise the purchase of garbage disposal units in order to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
Food scraps range from 10% to 20% of household waste, and are a problematic component of municipal waste, creating public health, sanitation and environmental problems at each step, beginning with internal storage and followed by truck-based collection. Burned in waste-to-energy facilities, the high water-content of food scraps means that their heating and burning consumes more energy than it generates; buried in landfills, food scraps decompose and generate methane gas, which is alleged to be a greenhouse gas.
The premise behind the proper use of a disposal is to effectively regard food scraps as liquid (averaging 70% water, like human waste), and use existing infrastructure (underground sewers and wastewater treatment plants) for its management. Modern wastewater plants are effective at processing organic solids into fertilizer products (known as biosolids), with advanced facilities also capturing methane for energy production.
A high-torque, insulated electric motor, usually rated at 250–750 watts (⅓ to 1 horsepower) for a domestic unit, spins a circular turntable mounted horizontally above it. Induction motors rotate at 1,400–1,800 RPM and have low starting torque. The added weight and size of induction motors may be of concern, depending on the available installation space and construction of the sink bowl. Universal motors motors rotate at higher speeds (about 2,800 rpm), have high starting torque, and are usually lighter, but are noisier than induction motors, partially due to the higher speeds and partially because the commutator brushes rub on the slotted armature. The higher starting torque of those appliances with a permanent magnet motor ensures in most cases that there will be no blockage.
Inside the grinding chamber there is a rotating metal turntable onto which the food waste drops. Two swiveling metal impellers mounted on top of the plate near the edge then fling the food waste against the grind ring repeatedly. Grooves in the grind ring break down the waste until it is small enough to pass through openings in the ring, whereupon it is flushed down the drain.
Usually, there is a partial rubber closure on the top of the disposal unit to prevent food waste from flying back up out of the grinding chamber. It may also be used to attenuate noise from the grinding chamber for quieter operation. Many high-end or commercial disposals have an additional blade attached beneath the turntable. The purpose of this blade is to chop up stringy food waste that would otherwise bypass the grind ring and clog the pipework.
There are two main types of garbage disposals — continuous feed and batch feed. Continuous feed models are used by feeding in waste after being started. Continuous feed models are more common. Batch feed units are used by placing waste inside the unit before being started. These types of units are started by placing a specially designed cover over the opening and twisting it to allow magnets in the cover to align with magnets in the unit. Because it is covered during operation, it is quieter than continuous feed models. Small slits in the cover allow water to flow through. Batch feed models are also safer, since the top of the disposal is covered during operation, preventing foreign objects from falling in.
Waste disposal units may jam, but can usually be cleared either by forcing the turntable round from above or by turning the motor using a hex-key wrench inserted into the motor shaft from below. Very hard objects accidentally or deliberately introduced, such as metal cutlery, can damage the waste disposal unit and become damaged themselves. More problematic are drain blockages caused by shredded waste that is fibrous, e.g., artichoke leaves, or starchy, e.g., potato peelings.
Some higher-end units have an automatic reversing jam clearing feature. By using a slightly more-complicated centrifugal starting switch, the split-phase motor rotates in the opposite direction from the previous run each time it is started. This can clear minor jams, but is claimed to be unnecessary by some manufacturers: Since the late 1970s most disposal units have swivel impellers which make reversing unnecessary.
Another kind of garbage disposal unit, the HydroMaid, is powered by water pressure, rather than electricity, and is manufactured by Hydromaid International. Instead of the turntable and grind ring described above, this alternative design has a water-powered unit with an oscillating piston with blades attached to chop the waste into fine pieces. Because of this cutting action, they can handle fibrous waste. Water-powered units take longer than electric ones for a given amount of waste and need fairly high water pressure to function properly. For a period of time in the mid-late 2000s the HydroMaid virtually disappeared from the commercial marketplace. The manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protections under Chapter 11, Title 11, United States Code in 2007. As of October 2011 however, Hydromaid disposals are available again via several online retailers, including Amazon.com.
Environmental and Safety impact
Kitchen waste disposal units increase the load of organic carbon that reaches water treatment plant, which in turn increases the consumption of oxygen. Metcalf & Eddy quantified this impact as 0.04 pounds of biochemical oxygen demand per person per day where disposers are used. An Australian study that compared in-sink food processing to composting alternatives via a life cycle assessment found that while the in-sink disposal performed well with respect to climate change, acidification, and energy usage, it did contribute to eutrophication and toxicity potentials. Safe use of disposals is enhanced by employing the "Which Switch?" identifier to ensure the correct wall/toggle switch is used to engage potentially dangerous grinding units found in most disposals. 
This may result in higher costs for energy needed to supply oxygen in secondary operations. However, if the waste water treatment is finely controlled, the organic carbon in the food may help to keep the bacterial decomposition running, as carbon may be deficient in that process. This increased carbon serves as an inexpensive and continuous source of carbon necessary for biologic nutrient removal.
One result is larger amounts of solid residue from the waste-water treatment process. According to a study at the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s wastewater treatment plant funded by the EPA, food waste produces three times the biogas as compared to municipal sewage sludge. The value of the biogas produced from anaerobic digestion of food waste appears to exceed the cost of processing the food waste and disposing of the residual biosolids (based on a LAX Airport proposal to divert 8,000 tons/year of bulk food waste.)
In a study at the Hyperion (Los Angeles) sewage treatment works, disposer use showed minimal to no impact on the total biosolids byproduct from sewage treatment and similarly minimal impact on handling processes as the high volatile solids destruction (VSD) from food waste yield a minimum amount of solids in residue.
Energy usage is not high; typically 500 - 1500 W of power is used, comparable to an electric iron, but only for a very short time, totaling approximately 3-4 kWh of electricity per household per year. Daily water usage varies, but is typically one gallon of water per person per day, comparable to an additional toilet flush. One survey of these food processing units found a slight increase in household water use.
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